Black Excellence: John Berry and Mary Meachum

John Berry Meachum (1789–1854) was an American pastor, businessman, educator and founder of the First African Baptist Church in St. Louis, the oldest black church west of the Mississippi River. At a time when it was illegal in the city to teach people of color to read and write, Meachum operated a school in the church’s basement. Meachum also circumvented a Missouri state law banning education for black people by creating the Floating Freedom School on a steamboat on the Mississippi River.

As a young man, he guided 75 enslaved people from Kentucky to their freedom in Indiana, a free state. Once established in Missouri, he and his wife Mary Meachum were conductors on the Underground Railroad.